Vladimir Guerrero Jr. makes MLB debut: Blue Jays prospect flashes bat and glove in win
We've got takeaways and the blow-by-blow of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s MLB debut with the Blue Jays
Thanks in part to Guerrero's efforts, the Blue Jays won a close one in Toronto (TOR 4, OAK 2). As for Vlad Jr., his first game in the majors was very much a success:
Guerrero Jr. is of course the son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, and in addition to those legendary bloodlines he absolutely dominated at every level of the minors despite being much younger than his peer group. Even though Vlad Jr. is still just 20 years and 41 days of age -- he's the youngest Blue Jay ever to play the majors -- and he was ready for the highest level last year. Given that readiness in tandem with his elite tools at the plate, it's not surprising that he started producing right away.
Below you'll find our blow-by-blow of Vladito's first MLB game as it happened, but first let's indulge in a few takeaways from his Friday evening at Rogers Centre:
1. He's a disciplined hitter with an advanced approach.
Guerrero showed advanced knowledge of the strike zone coming up through the minors, and that was obvious on Friday night. He didn't swing and miss all night, and he showed an advanced grasp of the zone on the outer half -- better than the plate ump. Guerrero recognized offspeed stuff and either laid off of it or put a bat on it, even in fastball counts. He wasn't fooled once in four trips to the plate.
2. He hits the ball hard.
We already knew this, of course. Guerrero regularly puts up the kind of exit velocities that put him on par with the best hitters in the game. He hit a grounder at 107 mph, and the other three balls he put in play clocked in at better than 95 mph (and this is to say nothing of the absolute shot he hit in bp, which you'll see below). He's capable of much more than that -- as we'll all soon see -- and that's part of why he has the potential to be a frontline producer right now.
3. He looked good at third base.
Guerrero probably isn't going to be a plus third baseman thanks to a lack of range, and it's possible his large frame eventually forces him to first base or perhaps an outfield corner. For now, though, he looks playable at the hot corner. That was evident on Friday night. As you'll see below, Guerrero showed soft hands and a powerful throwing arm. The makings of good footwork are also there. If nothing else, he looked like the possibility of being moved off third base isn't a discussion that needs to happen for at least a few years. It wouldn't be surprising if Guerrero settled in as an average third baseman, and he's got more than enough bat for that to work.
4. He's going to light a fire under Toronto.
The enthusiasm was almost palpable. He was wildly cheered for merely touching a foul ball in the top of the second, and the ovation leading up to his first plate appearance was what you'd expect. The near home run turned Rogers Centre electric, and it was only outdone by his ninth-inning double. Baseball's going to be a lot of fun in Toronto for a long time thanks in large measure to young Mr. Guerrero.
And now let's relive our wall-to-wall coverage of Guerrero's first night in the majors:
And here's manager Charlie Montoyo's first-ever lineup with Vlad Jr. in it:
There's our hero, batting fifth in the Toronto lineup, between two lefties. Guerrero Jr. typically batted third in the minors, so this spot is theoretically less of a fulcrum. In case you were wondering, hitters don't often make their debuts so high in the lineup:
Assuming Vlad Jr. never again sees action in the minors for anything other than a rehab assignment -- perish the thought -- he effectively ends his minor-league career with a slash line of .331/.413/.531 with 44 home runs and 71 doubles in 288 games.
Ready for a nice touch? Vlad Jr. showed up to Rogers Centre wearing his pop's old Expos jersey:
Vlad Sr. spent the first eight years of his career with the Expos (10 if you count the minors), and Vlad Jr. was born in Montreal (in March of Vlad Sr.'s age-24 season). So this is a very nice way to honor both his dad and Canadian baseball.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, Papa V is on hand in Toronto tonight:
Vlad Jr. has, and he's got a swing plane that lends itself to putting up big power numbers. Yeah, it's just BP, but consider this pre-game blast on Friday night to be a sign of things to come:
Don't be surprised if Vlad Jr. at 5:00 BP is appointment viewing going forward. Let the Home Run Derby speculation commence.
First plate appearance
In the second, Vlad faced Oakland starter Mike Fiers. In the top half, Guerrero was vigorously cheered for successful fielding a poorly struck foul grounder, so enthusiasm was brimming. Anyhow, Fiers is a right-hander, so Guerrero ceded the platoon advantage in his first career plate appearance. While Guerrero was of course very good against same-side pitching in the minors, he was better against lefties, which is what you would expect.
Fiers is a deep-repertoire sort with below-average velocity but command of plenty of secondary offerings, including a cutter and changeup that can be hard to square up. First, the ovation:
And here's another angle on that very confident plate-ward stride:
"Old Town Road"!
Fiers fed Guerrero all fastballs in their five-pitch encounter. Already, Guerrero's batting eye is on display. He laid off two pitches that weren't anywhere near the zone and also passed on a 1-1 fastball that was just off the plate. Unfortunately for Vlad, plate ump David Rackley incorrectly called it a strike, which tilted the count to Fiers' favor. At 2-2, Guerrero grounded out to first base. It was well struck:
And now for a bit of symmetry:
And here's that first plate appearance for your viewing pleasure (note the nice swing he puts on that 1-0 fastball):
Vlad Jr. got his fielding tested for the first time in the top of the fourth with one out and a man on. Stephen Piscotty -- representing the potential tying run -- chopped one high toward third, and Vlad was forced to make a tough pretty tough play on the short hop:
Defense is of course the concern with Guerrero Jr. Will he have the hands and range to stick at third? He's got the arm, and he certainly looked comfortable on that play.
Second plate appearance
Fiers, at 48 pitches and down 2-0 in the fourth, started off Guerrero with back-to-back sliders, and the batsman of note laid off both, including a borderline second pitch. After going all fastballs in their first encounter, Fiers obviously knew he needed to mix it up.
Fiers then when up and in and then missed with another slider away to run the count to 3-1. That, you know, is a hitter's count, and Vlad Jr. put almost enough of a charge into it. He sent the Fiers' changeup to deep left, but Chad Pinder made a nice play on it just a couple of feet in front of the wall. If nothing else, Vlad Jr. showed he can be looking fastball and adjust pretty nicely to a changeup. Moving pictures:
Just got under that one by a hair.
Third plate appearance
In the sixth, Fiers faced Vlad Jr. for the third time in the game. This time it was just a two-pitch encounter. Guerrero flinched at a curve that missed way inside for ball one, and then he took an outside cutter deep to the opposite field:
It wasn't as close to being gone as the ball he drove in the fourth, but that's still some nice carry. Another positive is that Guerrero was able to drive a pitch on the outside corner immediately after being driven off the plate with an inside pitch.
Defensive interlude, part 2
With two out in the seventh, Pinder grounded a Marcus Stroman fastball over to the hot corner, and Guerrero made his second play of the night:
Maybe you could say the footwork was a tad choppy, but that's an MLB third-base throwing arm right there. Another nice play for Vladito, and it came at the expense of the player who robbed him of extras bases and perhaps a homer earlier.
Defensive interlude, part 3
In the top of the eighth, Ramon Laurenao grounded one between short and third. Guerrero reacted promptly and timed his dive well, but the ball just eluded the edge of his glove. The next batter, Robbie Grossman, homered to tie the game.
Fourth plate appearance
With the score tied at 2-2, Vlad Jr. led off the bottom of the ninth against Yusmeiro Petit. He laid off a fastball just off the outside corner (he's got a lot of discipline on pitches away), fouled off another fastball, took a called strike on the outside corner (probably off the corner, in truth), laid off a breaking ball, and then did this:
That Petit fastball was almost in the same spot that the third pitch of the AB was -- the questionable strike call -- and Guerrero, realizing he couldn't take it with two strikes, went with it for a double down the line and his first career hit. Remember this one.
Pops, your thoughts?
Shortly thereafter, Guerrero Jr. was lifted for pinch-runner Alen Hanson to deafening cheers.
Two outs later, Brandon Drury, the man Guerrero dislodged at third base, smacked a walk-off homer, thanks in part to some table-setting by Vlad Jr:
And that, people, was a debut to remember:
There's no shame in going 1 for 4 with a double in your first taste of the highest league in the world, but that really undersells what Guerrero did on Friday night. So, so much more to come from this special ballplayer.
In conclusion ...
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